In William Barr, Trump Has Found His Roy Cohn

In January of 2018, while Jeff Sessions was still the attorney general, sources told Michael Schmidt of the New York Times that Trump was lamenting that the top law enforcement officer in the country wasn’t protecting him the way he expected and asked “Where is my Roy Cohn?” Robert Mueller reported something similar.

On March 3, 2017 the day after Sessions’s recusal, McGahn was called into the Oval Office. Other advisors were there, including Priebus and Bannon. The President opened the conversation by saying, “I don’t have a lawyer.” The President expressed anger at McGahn about the recusal and brought up Roy Cohn, stating that he wished Cohn was his attorney.

It bears repeating that this president is so clueless about our system of justice that he thinks the attorney general should be his own personal attorney and fixer. That alone should disqualify him from the office he currently holds.

But here’s one of the best memes we’ve seen from FaceApp, the one that allows people to see what they’ll look like when they get older.

In William Barr, Trump has finally found his Roy Cohn. The attorney general managed to pre-spin the release of the Mueller report in a way that allowed the president and his enablers to claim “no collusion, no obstruction.” Then he lied to congress about Mueller’s response to that spin.

Not content with that, Barr seems intent on allowing Trump to claim that, even if Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 election, it wasn’t an attempt to help him. Natasha Bertrand added to that story recently. She reports that Barr’s appointment of U.S. Attorney John Durham to review the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation is not only duplicative of the review being conducted by Justice Department inspector general Michael E. Horowitz, it also replicates one from CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Just after Pompeo took over as CIA director in 2017, he conducted a personal review of the CIA’s findings, grilling analysts on their conclusions in a challenging and at times combative interview, these people said. He ultimately found no evidence of any wrongdoing, or that the analysts had been under political pressure to produce their findings.

“This wasn’t just a briefing,” said one person familiar with the episode. “This was a challenging back and forth, in which Pompeo asked the officers tough questions about their work and how they determined Putin’s specific objectives.”

Here’s what both Pompeo’s and Durham’s reviews have in common.

Trump’s allies have been fixated on the question of how the intelligence community determined that Russia intervened specifically to help Trump win rather than to just sow chaos and distrust in the Democratic process.

At the heart of their criticism is the “Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions” released in January 2017. In it, the CIA and FBI concluded with high confidence that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” The NSA reached the same conclusion with moderate confidence.

Trump continues to waffle on whether Russia even interfered in the 2016 election. But William Barr has accepted that part of Mueller’s findings. Those closest to the president, however, seem intent on finding something to challenge the notion that the interference was directed at helping Trump and hurting Clinton. If they can manufacture something along those lines, they assume that the entire edifice of charges against the president will crumble.

On this question, Mueller was clear (emphasis mine).

As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Robert Mueller is set to testify publicly before two congressional committees on Wednesday. Trump is doing what he always does when he feels threatened: attack.

I suspect that the president’s personal lawyer and fixer is working behind the scenes to prepare some news to drop in case Mueller’s testimony is too damaging to Trump. Since he is determined to manufacture evidence to undermine the fact that Putin’s motive was to help elect Trump, we can expect something along those lines.

People much more savvy than me are lining up with lists of questions that congressional Democrats should ask Mueller. Here are just a few.

To pre-empt what will probably come next from Trump’s fixer, I would suggest asking Mueller: (1) what evidence led to your conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election with the specific intent to help Trump get elected, and (2) why did the Russian government think they would benefit from his presidency?

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.